The relationship between the United States of America and France has endured an ongoing transformation since initial Franco-American cooperation during the American Revolution. Since establishing an alliance in the 18th century, this relationship has seen times of cooperation such as during the allied involvement in the ousting of Libya’s dictator, Muammar Gadhafi, in 2011. Oppositely, France and the USA have experienced disagreements such as France’s withdrawal from NATO military command in 1966 and France’s staunch opposition to the US Invasion of Iraq in 2003. Now, in light of the Syrian Crisis, this relationship appears to depict a new dynamic of unwavering support for one another, as both countries find themselves on the same side of international attempts in containing and condemning Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. So, what exactly is responsible for this level of cooperation? There is certainly no singular answer to this question, but after an examination of recent political changes, an explanation becomes clearer.
Namely, the United Kingdom’s decision to not engage Syria militarily has left the United States searching for other European powers to validate a possible strike on Damascus. With the United State’s recent, traditional ally out of the picture, France’s urge for military action has not only brought France to the forefront of the Syrian Crisis, but more importantly to the front of international diplomatic efforts aimed at destroying Syria’s chemical stockpiles. François Hollande’s recent, direct involvement on the draft UN Resolution to destroy al-Assad’s chemical weapons in Paris is proof of this position of importance. Yet, France seems to not only be aligned with the United States in terms of political means to secure chemical weapons, but also militarily. France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, on September 16, 2013 noted that all options remain on the table to ensure the Syrian regime’s compliance. This comment echoes the same message Barrack Obama has been using in his speeches, such as during his recent address about Syria on September 10th where he urged a targeted military strike against Bashar’s regime. While this level of cooperation may still have occurred with British involvement, the resulting power vacuum has left France in a unique position to act on the international stage alongside the United States in a recently unprecedented manner.
Moreover, the political changes in France and the United States over the past decade may explain why relations have warmed prior to the Syrian Crisis. Specifically, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 and Barrack Obama’s meteoric rise to the presidency in 2008 opened up a new era in Franco-American relations. Disregarding the Bush Administration and Jacques Chirac’s past disagreement over intervention in Iraq, Sarkozy and Obama developed a more productive and professional relationship, realizing their mutually beneficial alliance. In fact, it was Sarkozy himself who asked Hilary Clinton to push for intervention in Libya during early 2011 exemplifying a new level of personal cooperation between the two nations. Later, in 2013, France’s decision to intervene in the Northern Mali Conflict provides further evidence of France’s tendency to intervene in international conflicts, which has been a large element of American foreign policy since 9/11.
Despite an alignment of national interests, present Franco-American relations also may rest upon the personal relationships between the individual actors of both nations. For instance, John Kerry, the present Secretary of State, has a direct connection to the French Republic as his mother was born in Paris and he himself speaks the French language fluently. The Secretary of State just recently gave a speech in Paris with the French Foreign Minister expressing his gratitude to France for backing Barrack Obama’s condemnation and threat of military force against Syria. While this may have only been a symbolic effort, Kerry’s actions further demonstrate the present alliance between both countries. It also may serve as a catalyst for future cooperation as relations between both states continue to strengthen.
France was one of the first countries to ever experience chemical weapons on the battlefield in the form of mustard gas during WWI. Despite occurring about a century ago, the issue of chemical weapons in modern warfare has now come to a breaking point with the Syrian Civil War. As of right now, the United States and France appear determined in their efforts to rid Syria of chemical weapons and both also have expressed how a military strike against Bashar al-Assad is still a possibility. This cooperation would be hard to fathom a decade ago in the wake of the US invasion in Iraq and subsequent calls for a boycott against France in the United States. However, a change in political leaders, a more aligned foreign policy, the absence of British involvement and the presence of personal relationships between these two nations has defined their newfound collaboration as the Syrian Civil War continues to unfold. As the international reaction to Bashar al –Assad’s usage of chemical weapons against his own people becomes clearer; one can expect to see a continuation of French and American cooperation. However, as history has demonstrated, Franco-American relations can certainly change and tiffs are nothing new to these two great powers.